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Doc Sheehan's 20 Tips for Every Runner


What with today's business pressures, physicians need to maintain their own good health. Here are a few practical pointers for the benefit of those taking up jogging.

“The answer to the big questions in running is the same as the answer to the big questions in life: Do the best with what you've got.”

—George A. Sheehan, Jr., MD

He was my uncle (my mom’s older brother) and my father’s medical partner for 25 years.

George A. Sheehan, Jr., MD, the nationally-renowned “Running Doc” was the guru of the sport in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s. Physician, best-selling author, acclaimed lecturer, and father of 12 children, he revolutionized the sport of running as a means of total fitness for mind and body.

A track star at Manhattan College, he abandoned the sport of running only to return to it as a 45-year-old doctor. His then-odd outlet clicked and a nation of runners hit the road. His signature tome—revered by runners and sports enthusiasts—was, Running and Being: The Total Experience. Published in 1978, the New York Times bestseller earned the title of “the philosophical bible for runners.” Uncle George died of cancer in 1993 at age 75.

What with today’s business pressures, physicians need to maintain their own good health. This column is for the benefit of those taking up jogging. Here are a few practical pointers to keep in mind:

1. Keep a record of your morning pulse

Lie in bed for a few minutes after you awaken and then take your pulse. As your training progresses, it will gradually become slower and after 3 months or so plateau out. From then on, if you awaken and find a rate of 10 or more beats higher, you have not recovered from your previous day’s runs, races, or stresses. Take the day or more off until the pulse returns to normal.

2. Weigh yourself regularly

Initially you will not lose much weight. What you lose in fat you will put on in muscle. Running consumes 100 calories a mile and there are 3,500 calories to a pound so you can see weight loss will be slow unless you do heavy mileage.

3. Do your exercises daily

The more you run, the more muscle imbalance occurs. The calf, hamstrings (back thigh) and low back muscles become short, tight and inflexible. They have to be stretched. On the other hand the shins, the quads (front thigh) and the belly muscles become relatively weak. They must be strengthened. Learn the Magic 6: 3 strengthening exercises, 3 stretching exercises.

4. Eat to run

Eat a good high-protein breakfast, then have a light lunch. Run on an empty stomach at least 2, preferably 3 hours after your last meal. Save the carbohydrates for the meal after the run to replenish the muscle sugar.

5. Drink plenty of fluids

Take sugar-free drinks up to 15 minutes before running. Then take 12 to 16 ounces of easily tolerated juices, tea with honey or sugar, defizzed Coke, etc. before setting out. In winter that should be all you need.

6. Run on an empty colon

Running causes increased peristalsis, cramps and even diarrhea. Having a bowel movement before running and particularly before racing prevents these abdominal symptoms.

7. Wear the right clothes

In winter this means a base of thermal underwear followed by several layers of cotton or wool shirts with at least one being a turtleneck. Wear a ski mask and mittens. Use nylon if necessary to protect against wind and wet. In summer the main enemy is radiant heat. Remember to wear white clothes and use some kind of head covering.

8. Find your shoes and stick to them

High-arch feet do better with narrow heels. Morto’s Foot (short big toe, long second toe) may need an arch support in the shoe. If a shoe works, train in it, and wear it to work.

9. The fitness equation is 30 minutes at a comfortable pace 4 times a week

Your body should be able to tell you that "comfortable" pace. If in doubt use the “talk test.” Run at a speed at which you can carry on a conversation with a companion.

10. Run economically

Do not bounce or overstride. You should lengthen your stride by pushing off, not by reaching out. Do not let your foot get ahead of your knee. This means your knee will be slightly bent at footstrike. Run from the hips down with the upper body straight up and used only for balance. Relax.

11. Belly breathe

This is not easy and must be practiced and consciously done just prior to a run or a race. Take air into your belly and exhale against a slight resistance either through pursed lips or by a grunt or a groan. This uses the diaphragm correctly and prevents the “stitch.”

12. Wait for your second wind

It takes 6 to 10 minutes and one degree in body temperature to shunt the blood to the working muscles. When that happens you will experience a light warm sweat and know what the “second wind” means. You must run quite slowly until this occurs. Then you can dial yourself to “comfortable,” put yourself on automatic pilot, and enjoy.

13. Run against traffic

Two heads are better than one in preventing an accident. Turn your back on a driver and you are giving up control of your life. At night wear some reflective material or carry a small flashlight.

14. Give dogs their territory

Cross to the other side of the road and pick up some object you can brandish at them. Never try to outrun a dog. Face the dog and keep talking until it appears to be safe to go on.

15. Learn to read your body

Be aware of signs of overtraining. If the second wind brings a cold clammy sweat, head for home. Establish a distant early warning line that alerts you to impending trouble. Loss of zest, high morning pulse, lightheadedness on standing, scratchy throat, swollen glands, insomnia, palpitation, are some of the frequent harbingers of trouble.

16. Do not run with a cold.

A cold means you are overtrained. You have already run too much. Wait at least 3 days, preferably longer. Take a nap the hour you would usually spend running.

17. Do not cheat on your sleep

Add an extra hour of sleep when in heavy training. Also arrange for at least one or 2 naps a week and take a long one after your weekend run.

18. When injured find a substitute activity to maintain fitness

Swim, cycle, or walk for the same time you would normally jog.

19. Most injuries result from a change in your training

A change in shoes, an increase in mileage (25 miles per week is the dividing line; at 50 miles per week the injury rate is doubled), hill or speed work, or a change in surface. Almost always there is some associated weakness of the foot, muscle strength/flexibility imbalance, or one leg shorter than the other. Use of heel lifts, arch supports, modification of shoes and corrective exercises may be necessary before you are able to return to pain-free running.

20. Training is a practical application of Hans Selye’s General Adaptation Syndrome

Stress is applied, the organism reacts, a suitable time is given to reestablish equilibrium. Then stress is applied again. Each of us can stand different loads and need different amounts of time to adapt. You are an experiment of one. Establish your own schedule; do not follow anyone else’s.

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